The US Navy plans to standardize its Tomahawk cruise missile inventory on the Block V configuration, according to the program manager of the Tomahawk Weapons System Program, Captain John Red. The plan was announced at the 2020 Surface Weapons Synopsium.
According to Captain Red, all Block IV Tomahawks currently in the inventory will be upgraded to Block V configuration. Older Block III Tomahawks, however, will be retired and demilitarized.
Captain Red stated to reporters at the Synopsium that the Block IV was designed in 1999 and had an expected lifespan of 30 years, meaning that “the future was now” for their modernization. According to Chris Daly, the director of program management at Raytheon (the manufacturer of the Tomahawk), production of the Block IV continues today.
The Block V Tomahawk features greater range, a modernized satellite datalink and navigation systems compared to the Block IV. There are three variants of the Block V, namely the base Block V, the Block Va and the Block Vb. The Block Va is known as the Maritime Strike Tomahawk, and is a modular seeker kit that allows for targeting of moving targets using multiple seeker modes or midcourse guidance from a third party. The Block Vb uses the Joint Multi Effects Warhead System (JMEWS), a new warhead intended to improve Tomahawk performance against land targets. The new warhead is designed to penetrate and destroy hardened targets like underground bunkers, as well as enhanced performance against integrated air defense systems and weapons of mass destruction. According to Captain Red, the split between the three variants has yet to be decided.
The modernization of the Tomahawks will be carried out at the Raytheon facility in Tucson, Arizona. The first five converted Block Vs will serve as test missiles, with four of them to be returned to the fleet to “to demonstrate their capabilities”. 90 Tomahawks are to be modernized and recertified in a cycle.
Captain Red added that it was possible that the United Kingdom, the only other operator of the Tomahawk, would similarly modernize its Tomahawks following the completion of the US inventory’s modernization. Foreign military sales regulations requires US systems and weapons being sold to be already in service with the US military, with Captain Red commenting that “we’re still working through that”.